The spring cycling holiday is a well-maintained tradition in cycling. Getting some sunny miles in before the British summer kicks off is a great way of building fitness and awakening some excitement for the months ahead as well as building relationships with club and team-mates.
The European roads often boast a glass-like smoothness and as a result the miles seem to whizz by – even when there are some pretty substantial climbs along the way.
>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
Speaking of climbs – the ones you’ll find adorning most popular cycling holiday locations are much longer than any you’ll find in the UK. These create the perfect opportunity for focused training, with threshold efforts up the climbs and the descents lend a perfect opportunity to (safely) put your skills to the test.
When to go on a cycling holiday?
The most popular time to jet away for miles of smiles is between February and April.
Of course the best time will depend upon your chosen location, but these months represent the most suitable time to log the miles if you’re training for summer events in the UK.
Cycling holiday options: DIY or guided tour?
There are two clear choices when it comes to organising a cycling holiday.
You can go DIY – booking your own flights, transfers, accommodation and bike hire (if applicable) and planning your own rides.
This is substantially cheaper but requires either decent knowledge of the area or an appreciation for ride planning, map reading and spending evenings on Google.
The DIY option gets even cheaper if you’re going with a large group, as you can divide the cost of a chalet or book a mini-van to slice the transfer fee.
Alternatively you can go through a cycle tour provider. These vary in terms of provision, but many will include accommodation, services of a mechanic, food, a guide who will lead rides and even a follow car that will store provisions (and offer lift if you’ve reached the point where no energy bar will help). There may be several groups going out, with rides at different speeds, too.
This option is considerably more expensive, but is often advertised as an opportunity to ‘feel like a pro for a week’.
Hire a bike or take your own?
This is a question that deserves its own dedicated article – and you’ll find the hire bike vs own bike discussion here.
In short, popular budget airlines will charge about £60 to carry your bike away for you, and you’ll need a bike bag or box which could cost anywhere between £100 and £700.
Cycling Weekly has experimented with a cardboard box as opposed to a bike box. The theory is baggage handlers are more careful with the fragile looking exterior – but we’re not sure it’s worth spending the flight imagining the carbon frame massacre that could be going on in the underbelly of the plane.
Hire bike cost varies dramatically – but in Mallorca you can get a carbon model with Shimano Ultegra for about €20/£17 a day.
Taking your own bike means it’s ready set up with the saddle height, offset and reach exactly as it should be, but it also means you might have to dissemble and reassemble it at each end. Plus, however good your bike box, there’s also a slight chance of your pride and joy getting damaged en route.
Hiring a bike means you’ll need to measure it up to get the fit right, and the new ride might take a bit of getting used to.
Cycling holidays in Spain
Spain is a particularly favourable location for cyclists looking to get away in the spring.
Temperatures in deep winter are often too cold for ascending the mountains, and mid-summer it can be too hot – but during the peak ‘training camp’ months of February, March and April it can be ideal.
The terrain largely lends itself to such holidays – with plenty of long climbs, as well as flat-land riding for those days in between, and flights to the vast majority of popular locations take not far over two hours.
Of course, it’s a varied country with several smaller islands adding to the choice. Popular locations include the piece de resistance – Mallorca, plus emerging favourite Girona and the mainland areas in Calpe and Denia – there’s more detail on each below.
Read more: Best cycling holiday’s in Spain
The best cycling holiday locations
You could cycle anywhere in the world. But there are a few very popular locations – here’s a look at the most frequently visited…
Belgium is home to some of the most high profile bike races in the world – but you’re better off waiting until the spring classics period has passed, and heading over come summer when the weather is more predictable.
Terrain varies greatly, there’s plenty of flat stretches in the north whilst you’ll find the hills in the south.
The famous cobbles will present their own challenge, and climbs to look out for include the Koppenberg (600 metres, 11.6 per cent average, 22 per cent max) and Oude Kwaremont (2.2km, average 4.2 per cent average, 11 per cent max).
Good to know: You can choose to ride the famous climbs any time of the year, and it’ll be sunnier mid summer. However, if you want to ride alongside others, then combine your trip with some cycling tourism and watch some pro racing, you could enter the Tour of Flanders sportive (March) or the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge (April).
Flight time: 1 hour to Brussels Airport, 1 hour 48 minutes to Brussels on Eurostar.
Recommended time to visit: Highs between 13-22ºC from April to September
Cape Town, South Afria
The longest flight on our list by a long way, but the stunning roads that lace this coastal area – which sits just below the shadow of Table Mountain in South Africa – are well documented.
The area is keen to advocate healthy lifestyle choices, with the Bicycle Cape Town organisation set up to promote facilities, routes and services in the area. During March, 3-12, the ‘LifeCycle Week’ pays tribute to all things bike related, with sportives, MTB events and competitive races filling out the schedule.
Sights to explore include the Smitswinkel climb, Cape Point Nature Reserve, the Misty Cliffs and Chapman’s Peak/Suikerbossie double ascent.
Good to know: Hot Chillee’s Cape Rouleur,There are two major events which you could wrap your visit around. The Cape Town Cycle Tour sportive, on Sunday March 11 in 2018, is a one day ride which takes in the greatest sights of the local area. Alternatively, go all out and check out running between March 4-8 this year. This tour explores the Cape Winelands, and splits riders up into three seeded groups, with the opportunity for competition with time segments.
Flight time: 11 hours, 45 minutes to Cape Town airport
Recommended time to visit: March to November, highs of 18-25ºC
Denia (or Calpe), Spain
Both Calpe and Denia are located on the Mediterranean coast of mainland Spain, on the Costa Blanca (in Alicante) stretch and about 35km apart from each other.
Like Mallorca, both areas are incredibly well set up for cyclists, with pretty much anything you could need available in case you run into trouble and need replacement parts or servicing.
There’s also a wide range of terrains, with notable climbs as well as flat lands for those easy spins home. When off the bike, there’s long stretches of sandy beaches to explore.
Good to know: Denia has proved popular with pro teams in the last few years – Team Sunweb, CCC Team and Astana have all made trips to the area for pre-season training. If you’re in the area, make sure you check out Cafe Ciclista – where you’ll find all the refreshments you could want, plus three weekly rides where you could pick up a little route planning inspiration.
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes to Alicante airport
Recommended time to visit: February to April, spring temperatures feature highs between 20-23ºC, winter temperatures are around 14-16ºC.
The Dolomites are a mountain range in northern Italy, within the Alps. The area itself is over 300km squared – so it’s unlikely you could explore it all, you’re more likely to pick one area.
Cycling Weekly has tested out the ski resort of Alta Badia, where you’ll find plenty of bike-ready accommodation and hire shops to furnish your needs. The roads here are very rarely flat – they go up, or down. Climbs include Falzarego, Valparola, Sella, Campolongo and Passo Pordoi.
The alternative to this region, and still within the Dolomites, is the region around Bormio, where you’ll find the touring Stelvio and Umbrail Pass, the 24km Gavia and the Mortirolo which features inclines as steep as 18 per cent over its 12km stretch.
Good to know: The area is keen to promote cycling, with the Sella Ronda Bike day and Dolomites Bike Day now annual events where roads are closed to cars and free for cyclists to enjoy. Both of these events are very inclusive and welcoming to all. Those after a challenge might fancy the Maratona dles Dolomites – Enel, taking place on July 5 in 2020 and covering 138km with 4230 metres of climbing.
Flight time: 2 hours to Venice
Recommended time to visit: Highs of 15-23ºC March to May, 11-19ºC October-November
This Catalonian city is home to a high number of professional cyclists – and it’s easy to see why.
As well as boasting plenty of climbs including the 10km Rocacorba, 11km Els Angels and 10km Sant Hilari.
Girona itself is famous for having a bustling social scene with plenty of cafes for refuelling and bars for evening entertainment. Flight time is about two hours.
Read more: Cycling Weekly guide to cycling in Girona
Good to know: The Service Course is a bike shop in Girona – but it’s a lot more than that. Services on offer include guided rides on the roads known only to locals (many of them pros), full on training camps, massage and airport transfers.
Flight time: 2 hours to Barcelona, 60-90 minute transfer to Girona
Recommended time to visit: November to May, highs of 14-23ºC November to May
Lanzarote, Canary Islands
This Spanish island is the most Eastern of the Canary Islands – meaning it’s just 125km off the African coast, which means it’s pretty warm and you’ll not be risking any chance of snow as is the case elsewhere, e.g. in Mallorca.
The challenge Lanza presents is the wind – average wind speeds sit at about 11mp/h or 18km/h across the year – and can be much higher. Ideal for learning to utilise the bunch!
Volcanic landscape provides plenty of undulating roads, as well as some major climbs. The climb to do is the Monte Corona – which is about 10km at 4 per cent, and Femes, which features three different ascent options all around 5-6km and 6 per cent.
Good to know: Apologies if you’re not into preceding a ride with a swim or following it with a run, but this island is home to Ironman Lanzarote – one of the most established triathlon races in Europe. The 182km bike course covers 2,551 metres of climbing, and can be followed at any time – with or without the swim and run.
Flight time: 4 hours to Lanzarote airport
Recommended time to visit: December to April, highs of 20-24ºC in Spring
Popular with pros an amateurs alike, Mallorca is the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands. Riders often stay in Port de Pollença or Alcudia.
There are loads of tour companies, as well as hotels well set up for cyclists and plenty of bike hire facilities and shops.
Another reason for Mallorca’s popularity is that the terrain is perfectly distributed – there are plenty of flat lands, rolling foothills and demanding climbs of 10-20km including Sa Calobra, Puig Major and Coll de Soller.
Read more: Cycling Weekly guide to cycling in Mallorca
Good to know: Once a year the Mallorca 312 takes over the island. You can choose to ride 312, 225 or 167km. The long route used to circle the entire island, but it now runs across the North and West, avoiding Palma, and allowing for closed road sections. In 2020, it’s being held on April 25 – 27.
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes to Palma (Port de Pollença is about 60km, 1 hour drive away)
Recommended time to visit: February to April, spring temperatures feature highs between 16-20ºC, though there’s a slight risk of surprise snow on the earlier end of this period
Morzine, French Alps
Well known for its mountain biking pedigree, Morzine also an excellent place to ride a road bike.
It’s also just nudging the boarder to Switzerland – a beautiful but much more expensive place to stay and visit, yet aboard a bicycle passing into the country is of course free.
The resort towns of Morzine and Avoriaz are dotted with hotels and chalets, the vast majority of them set up for outdoor sports and as welcoming to bicycles as they are to snowy boots and skis.
The roads are varied, with plenty of flat and undulating stretches, as well as hairpin-laden climbs such as the Avoriaz (14km, 6 per cent), Col de Joux Plane (11km, 9 per cent), Col de la Ramaz (16km, 6 per cent) and Col de la Joux Vert (15km, 6 per cent).
Good to know: There are loads of great rental chalets in the area, many of which you can just book yourself and DIY your trip. If you’re after the guided ride experience, 44South is run by a group of UK riders who moved to the area a couple of years ago. They can put you up, show you the area, and cook your meals if you go full-board.
Flight time: 90 minutes to Geneva, Switzerland, 1 hour 40 minutes to Grenoble, France.
Recommended time to visit: Highs of 16-18ºC May to September
Portugal, or the Portuguese Republic, is located to the west of Spain. Though not the most well documented cycling location, riding in Portugal is becoming more popular with a number of tour companies setting up in recent years.
Portugal’s roads vary from those you’ll find in Spain and its islands. There are climbs, but there’s also a wealth of long and rolling terrain well suited to the puncheurs of the world.
Good to know: Cycling Weekly visited Portugal in 2016 and 2017 with Volta Pro Tours – the company runs a range of cycling holidays, but we particularly enjoyed the N2, which covers the 750km on one road (the N2) from Chaves to Faro.
Flight time: 2 hours 45 minutes to Lisbon airport
Recommended time to visit: Highs of 16-24ºC November – April
Pyrenees, France (and Spain)
The Pyrenees mountain range stretches for over 430km between Spain and France. We’ve talked enough about Spain, and Cycling Weekly team members have enjoyed some incredible cycling holidays in France so we’re sticking with this end for now.
Many of the famous climbs have been visited by the Tour de France on multiple occasions, ascents include the Aubisque (30km at 4 per cent or 16km at 7 per cent), Tourmalet (17km at 7 per cent) and Hautacam (17km at 7 per cent).
Cooler mid-summer temperatures make the French Pyrenees a great place to visit later in the summer, when many of the Spanish islands would be far too hot.
Good to know: Haute Route’s Pyrennes – If you’re after a mega challenge, check out adventure. Over seven days, you’ll cover 700km and 18,000 metres of climbing. In 2020, the tour takes place between August 30 to September 5. CW presenter Oliver Bridgewood took on the challenge in 2017 – check out his experience here.
Flight time: 2 hours to Lourdes
Recommended time to visit: Highs of 14-24ºC March to October
The largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, Tenerife’s temperate climate has earned it the name ‘Isla de la Eterna Primavera’ – the island of the eternal spring.
At the centre of the island is Mount Teide volcano, atop of it is the Parador Hotel, a popular hold up for pro cyclists wanting to sleep at altitude.
The climb itself is the longest continuous ascent in Europe, in 35km you’ll cover 2,100 metres of elevation, reaching The altitude will get to you are the top, but there are plenty of opportunities to keep to the lower roads. The road circumference is just 223 miles, so it’ll be hard to get lost.
Good to know: The Parador hotel has been used by a number of pro cyclists. It’s located on the plateau at the top of Mount Teide, meeting the ‘sleep high, train low’ criteria. Bradley Wiggins first stayed there in 2011, though since it’s also been used by Lance Armstrong, not all riders are keen to share an association.
Flight time: Four hours to Tenerife South or North
Recommended time to visit: November through to May, spring temperatures feature highs between 20-23ºC
It’s well worth timing your trip to incorporate the event (October 4 in 2020) which pays tribute to the cycling culture of days gone by, with riders covering the route on bikes built before 1987 – wearing kit to match.
Whilst roads elsewhere in Europe are celebrated for their sublime smoothness, Tuscany instead takes its fame for the white dirt roads which lace between the tarmac. However, the region covers over 22,000 km squared, and varies dramatically across its expanse.
Summer temperatures climb to 30ºC, but visit between October and November for highs between 16-22 May ºC, or March to May for 16-23ºC.
Read more: Cycling Weekly guide to riding in Tuscany
Good to know: Cycling Weekly visited Tuscany during a fortnight long road trip, staying at a number of towns along the way. We found excellent value hire bikes just outside Siena at DFBikes, and explored some stunningly smooth and testing roads in the area. Heading off-road, we also picked up hire bikes at a riding stables within the Monti Sibillini National Park – though lack of competition meant the price tag on a few hours aboard a pretty outdated set of wheels was high – but the scenery made up for it.
Flight time: 2 hours to Florence
Recommended time to visit: October and November highs of 16-22 May ºC, or March to May for 16-23ºC